“Music is capable of taking us places. Music goes before us and leads us on,” said the Rev. David Shirey at the 9:15 a.m. Monday, August 6, morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
His sermon title was “Traveling Music,” and the Scripture text was Colossians 3:12-17. He dedicated the sermon to “Jared Jacobsen and all who sing in a choir, who lift up a joyful noise.”
When God questioned Job, he asked, “Where were you when I created the heavens and earth and the morning stars sang for joy?”
When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, Miriam went before them, playing her tambourine and singing.
“These are some of the oldest song compositions,” Shirey said.
The 150 psalms are a hymn book to guide singing and voices.
Shirey said the life of Jesus was “bookended by singing.” The angels sang “Gloria in excelsis Deo” when Jesus was born and before we left the upper room.
“They all sang a hymn,” Shirey said.
Singing overflowed into Paul.
“Paul must have been a clothes horse, a styling man, because in the text today, he keeps telling people what to put on,” Shirey said.
Shirey said he could see a mother standing at the bottom of the stairs helping her 6-year-old get dressed.
The mother might say, “Put on your compassion, and don’t forget your kindness. Your patience is in the top drawer, and you forgot your love yesterday.”
No Christian is adequately dressed until they put on hymns and songs. Shirey recalled that in Acts 16, Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi and were singing at midnight and the walls of the jail fell down.
Shirey also recalled John’s vision on the island of Patmos, describing the throne of God, the ceaseless singing of the four creatures and the 24 elders who also sang God’s praise.
“The truth of the matter,” Shirey said, “is that sometimes we cease to sing, that circumstances in life bring a lump to our throat and the music can’t get by. Then the choir blesses us by singing for us; they carry the melody until we get our voice back.”
King David established a choir of Israelites to be in charge of the temple service.
“They were like cabinet members,” Shirey said. “They were very important staff.”
Even though we might skip over their names, he told the congregation, they are listed in 1 Chronicles 15:16-24.
“It was traveling music that led the people of Israel through the wilderness and into the promised land. It goes before us in all our lives and takes us places,” Shirey said. “Even a few bars of a favorite hymn takes up places and transforms us.”
Shirey’s mother’s favorite hymn was “The Old Rugged Cross.” When he looked at her in church, singing that hymn, she was back in 1942: a 6-year-old in church with her mother and sister.
In Shirey’s first church, an elder called Mr. Bill always wanted to sing “The Church in the Wildwood.” When Shirey asked why, Mr. Bill, who had a deep bass voice, said, “My daddy had a deep bass voice, and I can hear him singing whenever we sing it.”
Music gets way down deep inside, Shirey said.
“There are two hemispheres to the brain, and the arts reside in the right hemisphere,” Shirey said. “Music goes through the ear, to the heart and to the marrow. It sticks when we forget anything else.”
Shirey paraphrased a poet who said some music is a tattoo on the subconscious. Music goes deep within the spirit, Shirey said, referencing another poet, “well below the frost line of illness and loss, hymns survive.”
Shirey concluded his sermon with the story of a hospital visit late on Christmas Eve. He stepped in front of the pulpit and knelt.
Joanne, a volunteer chaplain who had drawn the short straw to be on duty Christmas Eve, called Shirey to say that she had been requested to pray with a mother and daughter, and she did not know what to say.
He went to the hospital and told Joanne to follow his lead. They went into the hospital room and asked the daughter if they could kneel by the bed.
With all their hands on top of the mother’s hands, they started singing “Silent Night.” Shirey started to sing, and the congregation in the Amphitheater joined.
Shirey stopped the singing.
“I looked up when we got to the words ‘tender and mild,’ and I noticed the mother was mouthing the words with us,” he said.
He and the congregation resumed singing.
In the hospital, “after we sang ‘sleep in heavenly peace,’ she took three breathes and breathed her last,” Shirey said.
Music is capable of taking us places, he said.
“I believe the sound of music and the angel choir take us to the presence of God,” Shirey said.
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, presided. The Rev. J. Paul Womack, retired pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church and co-host of the Methodist Missionary House, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in singing “Earth Song” by Frank Ticheli. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.